With time running out to hold the national team tryouts, and no facilities to use, I had to convince the Pol-e-Charki Base Commander to use the facility for national team tryouts. This would be a touchy issue as I would not only be asking him to use the facility for something more than it is already used for, I would be asking him to let civilians come on to the base for a week, A very tall request for someone like me to ask.
As always, the Base Commander took the meeting with Reshad and I. And as always, there was a large group of soldiers and officers in his office. He was sternly giving his answers to those he was addressing in discussion. There were no seats for us to sit and once the Base Commander realized this, he quickly told two of the officers, that he was already sternly speaking to, to get out of the seats and go about their day. They quickly got up, and walked out of the office. As Reshad and I sat down, a soldier offered us tea. Of course, we said yes, as it would be rude to say no. As the Base Commander was going over other business with other soldiers and officers, the soldier who offered us tea carefully grabbed the two empty glasses of tea that the prior occupants of our seats had, filled each with a tiny bit of hot tea, swished the tea around for a few seconds, poured the spent tea in the corner of the office, then poured tea in each of the two cups. As the soldier was carrying the cups of tea to us, he also grabbed a small plate to put some candies on. As he set the candy and the cups of tea down, I could still see all of the smudges from the multiple and previous users of the cups. As with most other places, it was not a quality washing job, but I did not want to be rude and refuse to drink the tea. I stealthy positioned the cup so I would encounter the least amount of smudges as possible.
As the Base Commander finished his discussion with the Sergeant Major, he turned to Reshad and I and asked how his team was performing and what our plans were. We explained that the season would finish at the end of next week, on August 28th, right before Ramadan. He expressed his appreciation for teaching his soldiers how to swim and play “swimming football” and asked if there was anything else we needed to speak with him about. I then nudged Reshad to have him explain to the Base Commander what Reshad and I already rehearsed several times before taking the ATV over to his office. Reshad quickly explained to him that we wanted to host the first ever, Afghanistan Water Polo National Team tryouts, at the base pool. The Base Commander was intrigued by the opportunity and asked if all of the soldiers on the base could tryout. Reshad gave an affirmative reply and then told him that it would be open to all Afghans. I could then see him processing the information and immediately knew what his response would be. I quickly interjected and asked Reshad to explain to him that anyone who wanted to try out for the team would have to go through his security screenings, several hours before the first day of tryouts. I asked Reshad to tell that it would be a great honor, for the Pol-e-Charki Base to host these first national team tryouts and that if we had it on the base, as opposed to a pool in Kabul or other places, that there would be more of a chance for soldiers to make the team, since the pool is on the base and soldiers did not have to find a ride to anywhere else.
He said we could do it under the condition that everyone must go through a thorough background screening, that I would be responsible for them, and I would have to personally pick each person up from the gate. Before I launched my counter offer, which would have been a gripe, Reshad said let’s take it and that we would worry about the transportation later. Without questioning him, we agreed and went to shake the Commander’s hand and depart. After we shook hands, the Base Commander held on to my hand, and started speaking to the ten officers in the office. Rehad explained to me later that he was just telling the group what a great job that we were doing and that the officers in the base units were to ensure that all soldiers were allowed to attend the tryouts, if they so desired. As we left, I was relieved that we had a site for the tryouts, but worried that I would be responsible for everyone on the base.
With that hurdle completed, Reshad and I were able to convince Rohullah that we should have the tryouts at the base, otherwise we would not have a team, since time was running out before Ramadan. Rohullah finally agreed and said that he would spread the word. Reshad gave him specific instructions about the Pol-e-Charki Base Commander’s requirements, to make sure that anyone that wanted to tryout would have to show up at least two hours early.
I then tried to get some media exposure for the event. Rohullah said he would also try to get Afghan media there. I sent an email to dozens of organizations, to include Yahoo news, the Associated Press, NBC, New York Times, ESPN, Time, and military public affairs offices to try to get media outlets from the western world to see something good and fun coming out of Afghanistan. Other than automated responses, I only received one human reply. Tim Dahlberg, from the Associated Press responded by stating that “It looks very interesting, I'll pass it along to my editors.” I do not think that is an email that I will not receive a follow up on.
With all of this in motion, we really need to start getting our mindset into how to fundraise for this endeavor. This is pretty exciting stuff, but without big money, how are we going to train the national team that we are forming? The national team cannot train in Afghanistan more than a few months out of the year because of pool availability, weather, and religious fasting periods. The Afghanistan National Olympic Committee has no money, from what I am told. Starting a nonprofit organization will be the only way to make this happen. So much to think about.